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Best novel out of Iraq so far?

  • Sirens of Baghdad

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  • My War: Killing Time in Iraq

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  • C-H-U: Containerize Housing Unit

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Discussion Starter #1
I served in Iraq a few years ago and since then I've tried to find my generation's Vonnegut or Heller or Mailer or O'Brien.  I'm not saying I'm looking for anyone of that quality, but for all the books on Iraq, I haven't been able to find any novels--ie not memoirs--other than the above.  Part of me thinks maybe it's because the war is still going on, but it's a long war, and another part of me thinks that the publishing industry is just stuck on selling memoirs and not fiction. 

Regardless!  Cast your vote here for your favorites from above.  They're the closest I've been able to find to a good Iraq war novel thus far.  Each is reviewed briefly below.

1) Sirens of Baghdad:  Yasmina Khadra takes the opposing viewpoint in this story--that of an Iraqi bedouin turned terrorist.  The plot spans a good portion of the Middle East and provides a well-crafted insight into the thought processes of a terrorist, something tough for my western mind to wrap around but made easy by Kadhra's crafted writing.  In the end, I'd put this more as a political thriller (albeit a page-turner) than war fiction. ($11.16)

2) My War:  I'm cheating here.  This is actually a memoir originally written as a blog by a deployed soldier (Colby Buzzell), but it's spot on and almost surreal in its honesty (if such a thing can happen).  Video games and rock music while going out on missions is just a weird mesh, but it describes Iraq in a more honest way than I've seen.  A lot of authors try to invoke WWII-like images, and this guy does a good job of describing this generation's version of war. (not on Kindle but good!  $14.18)

3) C-H-U:  This is a Kindle-only book and I picked it out because of its cheaper price.  I didn't expect much based on the cover (that's how I judge, but I'm trying to change that with message boards!), but it's the only piece of 'real' fiction that I've found that's actually about the Iraq war.  It's about five separate characters and the chain reaction that occurs after a soldier dies, and is pretty lucid and visceral, a lot of internal dialogue and oddly sexual moments.  It is way different than Buzzell's My War but I think that's the case because the war has been in two separate phases (invasion versus occupation) and Rob Crotty was part of the "surge" according to his profile on Amazon.  A worthwhile read for the price ($7.19).

 

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I've not read any Iraq War novels yet, in large part because my feelings about the whole situation are so mixed and so intense that I don't feel any inclination right now to read a novelization.

To me, the most meaningful novels will be those written by the men and women who were at the "cutting edge", as they will likely be the most deeply affected by the war. Most of them are probably in their late teens or early twenties, and it may take several years for them to (a) be ready to express themselves about it and (b) achieve the technical and artistic writing skills to do it effectively. After all, Slaughterhouse Five was published in 1969, about a quarter century after Vonnegut was a POW in Dresden, and Catch 22 came out in '61, not quite 20 years after Heller flew missions as a bombardier in the Italian theater.
 

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Read Bravo Two Zero as a DTB a short while ago -- not too bad -- basically non-fiction account of a British SAS unit in '91.
Have a Sample of Joker One on board now but have not read it.
I'll definitely take a look at the ones you mentioned.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks Tip10.  I looked at the sample of both those books.  I like the eyewitness accounts, it strikes me as odd that no large amount of fiction has come out of the war though.  NogDog has a good point that fictionalized accounts come out decades later in a lot of cases.  Still seems odd though.  I look forward to checking these out in more detail.  Thanks!
 

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I haven't read any of these but I did read The Forever War by Dexter Filkins and thought it was an excellent, eye-opening book. 
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I thought the Forever War was a great book as well.  From Baghdad, with Love is an interesting twist, I'll have to check that out.  I'm still flummoxed that it's all non-fiction though.  For me, truth isn't really going to grasp what's going on over there (and in the minds of soldiers) for most people.  That's why I would vote for CHU or My War.  They're both more introspective.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of non-fiction, but when it comes to war I think it's pretty straight up in terms of facts--and that I can get from a newspaper.  When I'm reading a book on it though, I want to know the nuances, emotions, etc.

 

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Any generalization such as "non-fiction is better than fiction" or "novels are better than non-fiction," besides being essentially subjective, is also bound to have many exceptions even to those who are proponents of either viewpoint. Additionally, writings purported to be non-fiction can often be full of fiction, depending on how well the author researched the subject, what the author's ulterior motives for writing it might have been, which "side" (winner, loser, neutral) the author is on, etc. Fictional accounts can range from the wholly fictional to fictionalized amalgamations and generalizations of real people and events all the way to actual events and people where only the names have been changed to protect the innocent/guilty.

I have read non-fiction that is more captivating than many novels -- Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far come to mind, along with Chickenhawk by Robert Mason. On the other hand, very few (if any) non-fictional accounts have moved me as much as the best novels to come out of the man's inhumanity to man we simply call "war".

So the simple solution: I do not limit my choices to one or the other. The more sources you read, the better your understanding will be, just as not limiting yourself to one source of news will do so for current events (especially if you avoid limiting yourself to news sources with the same biases as your own).
 
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